I found this in J. W. McGarveyâ€™s compiled writings volume titled Biblical Criticism. As McGarvey was a considered scholar in both the Hebrew and Greek, I thought it might be useful to note his remarks concerning the use of plural pronouns in the Hebrew language. The response was posted to a radical question concerning disputing the authorship of Moses for the Penteteuch; however, the answer is interesting on other levels as well.
“Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.” ( Deuteronomy 32:35)
In this verse the vengeance of God is threatened on the Israelites, who were at the time Gods people, and who lived under the grace of God; but who, in spite of all of Gods wonderful works remained contrary (as verse 28 notes), having no real understanding of God or of his mercy. In heaven’s view, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit as mentioned in the three verses preceding this one in the text. This verse states, “their foot shall slip in due time,” noting the coming punishment and destruction that they were to be exposed to when they left off doing the will of God.
It also implies that they were always exposed to destruction as the person that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to falling. It is as if they were walking on ice. And this is implied in the manner that destruction would come upon them, being represented by their foot slipping. A similar expression is found in Psalm 73:18: “Surely you have set them in slippery places; you have cast them down into destruction.” This is the slippery slope – that place where we walk when we walk without God. They were on a spiritual “slip and slide” whose end point would land them at the gates of hell.
Beyond this, the scripture implies the destruction to which they were to be exposed would be sudden and unexpected. If we also were to walk in these same slippery places we would at any moment be liable to fall just like these. The person who walks there cannot foresee from one moment to the next whether they will stand or not; and when they do fall, it is suddenly and without warning and once fallen destruction follows, which is also expressed in Psalm 73 and verse 19. “Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment. They are utterly consumed with terrors.” Have you ever considered what it means to be utterly consumed with terrors?
It is also implied that they would fall all by themselves because of their own actions and without being thrown down by any other, because the one that stands or walks on this same slippery ground needs nothing at all but their own force and weight caught off balance in order to be overthrown.
It seems that the only reason they had not already fallen is that Gods appointed time for them had then not yet come. For as it was written, when that appointed time came, their foot would slip. They would be left to the gravity of the situation and they would (and did) fall, as they were disposed to. God would not hold them up any longer, he did not hold them up at all, but he let them go; and at that very instant, they fell into destruction; like the person who stands on the edge of a ledge; and who because he cannot stand there unaided, when his grip is loosened and he is let go immediately falls and is lost into the abyss. So it was with Israel. So it is with all.
Here is an observation: there is nothing that keeps wicked men and women at any one moment out of hell, except the mere pleasure of God.
God is longsuffering and would that all men and women should come to repent and be saved. But they are kept aloft in this world and in this life only by the pleasure of God: by his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will and through his patience; and aside from this they are restrained or hindered from falling away by nothing at all. Brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, we all hang onto this life by a very slender taunt thread.
Consider the proof for what I have just offered if you will. God does not lack the power to cast the wicked into hell. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can anyone his arm reaches to ever be delivered from his grip. He is not only able to cast wicked people into hell, but he can do so with ease.
Our country recently spent some two weeks emptying out the fortified city of Falluja in Iraq. There was strong resistance there by the terrorists to the military might of the US Marines and the Army. The terrorists were heavily fortified, well equipped and strong in their will. But only fools try to stand against overwhelming force.
Now there is no city or fortress and there is no defense that can stand against the force and power of God. Although vast multitudes of Gods enemies might combine together, they are easily broken. There is no power at all before Him. They are as dust in the wind – as stubble before the fanning fires. We step on a bug that we don’t even see crawling on the ground; and the slender thread of that insects life is quickly and randomly cut: and it is just as quick and easy for God to cast his enemies into hell. What are we that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks and hills are thrown down? Before whom the earth quakes and opens up to reject the dead.
We can rightly say that the ungodly deserve to be cast into hell; for divine justice never stands idle; it makes no objection against Gods using his power at any moment to destroy evil and those who reject him. We all say in our arrogance, “Do it Lord” – destroy those who we ourselves think are evil, even though we may in reality be part of that evil too – the evil that rejects God out of course. Justice calls aloud for an everlasting and infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth bad fruit, “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” (Luke 13:7). The sharp edged sword of God is then at every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy and Gods will that holds it back from its course.
Sinners are already under a sentence of damnation and of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast there, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between himself and mankind, is gone out before them, and stands against them; so that they are already bound over to hell. In John 3:18 the apostle states: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” And John 12: 48 – “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” Therefore every unconverted person properly belongs to hell; that will be their home and their place; and from there they shall go forth into eternity.
They are the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God that is expressed now in the torments of hell. And the reason why they are not immediately thrown down into hell at each moment is not that God, in whose power they are held, is not angry with them, for he surely is. He is angry with many who have idled their time and that would not do his will – those miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yet God is a great deal angrier with those that are still here on earth: with some that are right now reading this, who think that judgment comes to anyone else but not to them, or who think that God will accept them as they are and as they choose in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. They may be at ease; in fact they are more at ease than those who are right now in the flames of that place Jesus called Gahenna.
So it is not because God is unmindful of wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his grip and drop them into the lake of fire. God is not the same as they even though they imagine him to be like them. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace glows hot, ready to receive them; the flames rage and curl. The glittering sword is ready and held aloft, and the pit has opened its mouth wide to receive them.
At that moment, Satan stands ready to fall upon them from the towers of hell and to seize them as his own possession the moment that God will permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls under his dominion. The scriptures represent them as his goods, as in 2 Peter 2:19: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”
The many devils watch them from the pits of torment; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like hungry lions ready to spring. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon them and gleefully rend them. The old serpent is gazing idly at them; hell opens wide its mouth to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be swallowed up and immediately carried down and lost forevermore.
This essay, here to be presented in three parts, was adapted from and largely based upon the great Jonathan Edwards sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God which is public domain. I have used it in some form as a spoken lesson as have others. It is here reduced in scope but certainly not in intent, and it has been updated and modified for our CMS reading audience. You might be interested in reading the original, which can be found by Google searching “Jonathan Edwards ” or its title as listed above.